At Garran primary in the ACT they will tell you that they concentrate on “doing a few things really well.” And it shows. In the exacting international PIRLS tests for Year 4 reading, and compared with the national average, Garran has 30% more of its students in the top achievement bands. It has to do with the way Garran teaches English. They discard the basic readers in favour of rich and engaging literature. As a result Garran’s students say they read for the love of it, not because they have to.
At Toronto High school on the NSW central coast, they’re piloting a progamme with lower secondary students that ignores the standard timetable and the rigidity of the curriculum. They’ve taken to heart the idea of learning through enquiry, so disciplines are crossed. A maths class that starts in one area can quickly move into accelerated mode if that’s where student discovery takes it. Ditto for the humanities. As a result cognition is developed, students are testing their abstract thinking skills, and the whole world of study has moved to one of genuine learning.
Catering to some of the most disadvantaged children in inner city Sydney, Our Lady of Mount Carmel has reached out to the wider community and developed productive partnerships with groups like the Australian Children’s Music Foundation and the Story Factory. Specialists in music and writing are helping OLMC students broaden their enjoyment of the arts and helping to boost in-class achievement at the same time. An emphasis on early intervention, with speech therapists working intensively with children whose language is severely limited, is producing solid results. Students are given precise feedback about their work, and clear guidance about how to move to the next stage of development.
At Charles la Trobe in Melbourne’s northern suburbs teachers are addressing one of the big divides in Australian education - the way that subject choice, or the lack of it, is a barrier to a rich set of life choices. The school has moved away from what it calls “the dumbed-down electives” and has adopted a challenging academic curriculum. Philosophy has been introduced and students wrestle with the finer points of Socratic dialogue. CLT also hosts a Quantum facility, one of Victoria’s centres of excellence for the promotion of science, maths and technology.
These are just some of the ways that Australian schools are working to lift the ambition and achievement levels of young students.